If your last cholesterol test showed you that you were in trouble, and that you needed to watch yourself, you're probably looking for a way to help your cholesterol levels in a way that would do the least harm to your system. Certainly, you know that you need to exercise and watch your diet; but that is just the default action to take. What can you do over and above all these? You do remember seeing all those supplements at the pharmacy that promise to lower your cholesterol like magic without hurting you in any way. If you are trying to find out how to lower cholesterol effectively and painlessly, do these supplements have anything to offer you? The problem with anything that they call a "supplement" is usually that it indicates that there's not a whole lot of research that has gone behind it. Science may not claim to be perfect in the way it evaluates a new product; but it certainly is the best way we have of telling the wheat apart from the chaff. Let's take a look at what science says about several popular supplements that claim to show you how to lower cholesterol.
Let's start with a cholesterol-lowering supplement that happens to be very popular today for a particularly trendy substance it touts: Omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil actually has two kinds of them - EPA and DPA. So, what does science have to say about this? Is it really any help? Regular doses of fish oil that people take usually don't go above half a gram; in clinical trials, perhaps for exaggerated effect, they tested with 3 or 4 g of fish oil every day. They certainly found that fish oil lowered triglyceride levels (which happens to be one part of your cholesterol count). It really works well in people who have dangerously high levels of triglyceride; the problem is, fish oil does nothing to help you with your bad cholesterol - your levels of LDL. If anything, you get even more bad cholesterol than you start out with fish oil. So does this help you? Actually, fish oil happens to be one of the more effective supplements there are.
Niacin or vitamin B-3 has been under scientific and clinical scrutiny for about 30 years now for any number of its beneficial effects. The substance certainly is naturally available in dairy and meat; but in more concentrated form in a supplement, is it any help when you are at your wits' end over how to lower cholesterol count in your next test? Certainly, niacin has a measurable effect on your triglycerides and on your LDL (your bad cholesterol). The problem though is that its strongest effect is in raising your good cholesterol - which it can raise my a third. For any kind of perceptible effect, you need to dose yourself on pretty stiff quantities of the stuff - about 3 g a day. While the results can be encouraging, it can be dangerous taking large doses of niacin without the supervision of a doctor. And you certainly can't take the supplement as a stand-in for regular cholesterol drugs like statins. Some people forget in their enthusiasm that these really are just supplements - not solo drugs.
And finally, we come to two cholesterol supplements that seem more like food supplements than drugs. There is soluble fiber (extracted from oranges, oats and barley) and a fungus called red yeast rice that happens to be a naturally-occurring variety of statins which are the mainstay in the prescription treatment of cholesterol. Red yeast rice is seen to be particularly encouraging in clinical tests. It lowers bad cholesterol by up to a third. In this way, this is the only really proven cholesterol supplement in the world. But since this is a naturally occurring drug, doctors aren't sure how strong the drug is likely to be from batch to batch. As for soluble fiber, it is known to have a modest effect on your bad cholesterol - lowering it by about two or three points. And even there, you certainly will have to stuff yourself full of it. And that may not be practical at all.